Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nancy McClernan is anti-racist and egalitarian

Nancy McClernan is anti-racist and egalitarian, but a target of Google-bombing Tumblr zombies.

A year ago I disagreed on Facebook with some people who called John Lennon and Yoko Ono racists for a song they wrote 41 years ago. And for that, some nutty extremists defamed me as a "racist."

Now anybody who knows me, or even reads this blog, knows I'm an anti-racist and pro-egalitarian. I also have plenty of non-white friends and colleagues who will testify I am anti-racist. But such things don't matter to a mob of crazies with too much time on their hands and push-button technology to enable their mindless mob behavior.

Anyway, I certainly wouldn't ask one of  my non-white friends to come forward and reveal their real names on my behalf - they would end up a target of these wackos too.

I predict that Tumblr will eventually be sued into extinction when they've allowed one anonymous coward too many to spread lies and hate at will. But in the meantime, anybody in the world can be smeared by these mindless idiots. You too.

These Tumblr zombies are like the people who regularly attempt to ban Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because Twain used the word "nigger." Which he did because that's how people referred to their slaves in the antebellum South, which was the time-period HUCK was set.

We refer to people who can't allow a bad word to be used in any context because they don't understand or are hostile to art as "Philistines."

However, Mark Twain wasn't perfect and I wrote an introduction to my adaptation of Huck Finn in which I discuss why Twain ruined the last third of his novel - by having the character Jim forget all about his family. Go and read it.

New Yorker Parity Report - July 30, 2012

Looks like The New Yorker is doing things differently now - it no longer provides a permanent link per issue date to its online table of contents, so I can't provide a link to it from this blog as I have been doing since October 2011.

Now you have to link directly to the online copy of the magazine, which only subscribers can view.

So the New Yorker parity report will look a bit different from now on, as you can see. Now you can count the authors and determine the gender imbalance yourself by looking at the table of contents image... but I'll still do the math.

And they were SO CLOSE to parity for July 30, 2012. But since the reckoning is done by the bylines, and I do include poetry, they failed - the three male poets skewed the gender balance once again.

The New Yorker Parity Report

The New Yorker, July 30, 2012

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: +13%

Total writers:13
female: 5
gender parity score: 38%

Last week
Total writers: 20
male: 15
female: 5
gender parity score: 25%

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Trippy, man

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains so much about theatre... and everything else.

But this part especially struck me:
Dunning, Kruger, and coauthors' 2008 paper on this subject comes to qualitatively similar conclusions to their original work, after making some attempt to test alternative explanations. They conclude that the root cause is that, in contrast to high performers, "poor performers do not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve."
While running NYCPlaywrights, so often bad playwrights would bring in the same script again and again, with the most negligible of changes in spite of all the feedback - usually feedback that they themselves requested.

Eventually what they do is stop asking for feedback from strangers, and just ask for feedback from friends and family. Because all they want is praise - they don't actually want to learn - or perhaps I should say they are constitutionally unable to learn - from the feedback.

This also holds true for theatre groups, where everybody knows each other and nobody would dream of giving actual honest feedback, because the rule of all groups is "go along to get along." That was one way that NYCPlaywrights was different - there was never really an insiders-outsiders situation, which really pissed off a lot of people - it was completely contradictory to their expectation of how a writers group should be run. The fact that I personally gave honest feedback, and didn't insist that other people provide "constructive"  feedback was considered extremely offensive to many people.

But playwrights who are the best schmoozers are likely to get a shock once their work is reviewed by people who are not family or friends or members of their clique.

And the NYCPlaywrights method was quite effective as these testimonials demonstrate. It wasn't just about me being a big ole meanie.

Although I did write this play, inspired by a former member of NYCPlaywrights.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Romney campaign is based entirely on lies

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Democalypse 2012 - Do We Look Stupid? Don't Answer That Edition
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The Republican party has never been quite this shameless. It really is breath-taking. As Jon Stewart - once again doing the Lord's work - demonstrates here, everything that Obama said in the speech that the thugs have taken out of context was ALSO SAID BY ROMNEY.

The problem is that the US is so full of stupid, ignorant people that they don't realize that teachers, roads, the Internet, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. etc. etc. comes from government - and ultimately from taxes - they apparently all believe it comes from the free enterprise fairy.

But those of us who remember the swift-boating of John Kerry who lost the 2004 election to the Worst President in History (and he already had that title in the bag during his first term) worry that although these people are too stupid to figure out the difference between government services and the Invisible Hand of the Market, they do have the ability to feed themselves and flip a switch in a voting booth.

It is heartening though that Romney is doing his best to make a complete fool of himself.

And what about his tax returns? Oh, right, you people don't need to see them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


The lyrics of the Pixies' song Gigantic have a very modern poetry vibe to them:

And this I know
His teeth as white as snow
What a gas it was to see him
Walk her every day
Into a shady place
With her lips she said
She said

Hey Paul, Hey Paul, Hey Paul, let's have a ball

Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic

A big big love
Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic
A big big love

Lovely legs they are

What a big black mess
What a hunk of love
Walk her every day into a shady place
He's like the dark, but I'd want him

Hey Paul, Hey Paul, Hey Paul, let's have a ball

Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic

A big big love
Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic
A big big love

Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic

A big big love
Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic
A big big love 

You don't get too many songs that start out with "and."

Gigantic was from their Surfer Rosa album, which was a big influence on Kurt Cobain (from Wiki):
One notable citation as an influence was by Kurt Cobain, on influencing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which he admitted was a conscious attempt to co-opt the Pixies' style. In a January 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, he said, 
"I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band—or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard." 
Cobain cited Surfer Rosa as one of his main musical influences, and particularly admired the album's natural and powerful drum sounds—a result of Steve Albini's influence on the record. Albini later produced Nirvana's 1993 In Utero at the request of Cobain.

Black Francis of the Pixies says that the sound of Gigantic was influenced by Lou Reed:
The song's voyeuristic lyrics mostly revolve around a woman's observation of an attractive black man making love to another woman, culminating in the oddly light-hearted but sexual chorus: "Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic / A big, big love". Francis later commented on the title of the song and the chorus (in the music magazine SELECT), saying:
"A good chord progression, very Lou Reed influenced. I'd had the word 'gigantic' in my mind just because the chord progression seemed very big to me."
 Pretty impressive pedigree for a song - influenced by Lou Reed, influenced Kurt Cobain.

Cobain's "soft and quiet and then loud and hard" is an excellent description of much of the Pixies' work, and Lou Reed's influence notwithstanding, it's actually a lot like classical music.  Rock/pop music tends to stick with one mode, or at most build up to a climax, but classical music is always going quiet-loud-quiet. It adds to the drama.

So the sound opens with a simple drum stick beat and Kim Deal's bassline and lyrics, which is quiet and soft and simple. But Black Francis's wailing adds the perfect eccentricity and quasi-operatic touch. And then the loud part:
Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul let's have a ball.
Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul let's have a ball.
Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul let's have a ball.
And this is where the song leaps into the stratosphere. One of the best parts of the video on this post is that it shows Joey Santiago making that cosmic dinosaur wailing sound, starting at 00:39.

It's so good but if it goes on much longer it will be painful, so the chorus comes in at just the right moment:
Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic, a big big love.
And repeat. Then it gets quiet again and Black Francis gets a solo - and then loud and hard again. And really that's it. Pretty simple. But effective. And Joey Santiago deserve sainthood for the miracles he performs with sound.

Strangely enough, Ferdinand Marcos gets some credit for the Pixies' sound:
Santiago was born in Manila, Philippines, on June 10, 1965, the third of six sons of an anesthesiologist. In 1972, however, when President Marcos declared martial law, the family emigrated to the United States.

Another big influence - George Harrison:
(Santiago) attributes much of his style to songs he enjoyed when first learning the guitar, such as The Beatles' "Savoy Truffle", where "George Harrison played that bent note that I fell in love with and later milked it for all it was worth." He used such techniques with the Pixies: Doolittle's "Dead" begins with Santiago's guitar "squawking" on an E-flat like "a wounded animal."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Another video done

Tim Lueke plays a teenager so well - it's hard to believe he's pushing 30.

And no, I didn't cast this based on the fact that the actors' names match the characters' names. It just worked out that way.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Farewell, Sally Ride

The death of Sally Ride at age 61 has upset me more than I would have predicted. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised about feeling so sad - she was a hero to millions of women.

Here she is on Sesame Street.

Monday, July 23, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - July 23, 2012

Dammit, every time the New Yorker has a double issue, it throws me off my schedule and I forget to post the parity report for the next week.

We're back down to 25%. Same number of writers as last issue, but one fewer female writer, one more male writer.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: -8%

July 23, 2012

Total writers: 20
male: 15
female: 5
gender parity score: 25%

Last week
Total writers: 20
male: 14
female: 6
gender parity score: 33%

Sunday, July 22, 2012

as black as hell, as dark as night

With all the monologue recording I've done lately I decided to write my own monologue, and the amazing Claire Warden has agreed to record it for me in a couple of weeks.

I've inserted Shakespeares' Sonnet 147 into the monologue so I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately.

In most of his work, and in fact most of Sonnet 147 itself, Shakespeare is all about extended metaphors and clever wordplay. Sonnet 147 is mainly a metaphor comparing reason to a physician and love to a disease:
My love is as a fever longing still, 
For that which longer nurseth the disease; 
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, 
The uncertain sickly appetite to please. 
My reason, the physician to my love, 
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept, 
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve 
Desire is death, which physic did except. 
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care, 
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest; 
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are, 
At random from the truth vainly expressed; 
 And then he drops all the intellectual niceties and practically screams the last lines:
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
Like so much of Shakespeare's sonnets, even people who are very familiar with Shakespeare and his late-16th century mode sometimes struggle with teasing out the meaning. But anybody can understand those last two lines, no translation necessary. The last line could be from a heavy metal song.

You can see how variously the sonnet has been interpreted on Youtube.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A tram ride to Roosevelt Island

My iPhone video of the return trip we took back to Roosevelt Island from Manhattan. The trip takes four minutes more or less, since the video takes four minutes. You can see the reflection of my Chuck Taylors early in the video. The young woman in the red shirt is the tram conductor. She's in the shot at the end of the video.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl

I found out about this web series via the NYTimes. This woman really gets web video. I watched the entire series in one sitting. It's 95% genius.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Will Follow Him

Little Peggy March
was only 14 years old when she had the number one hit I Will Follow Him, and she didn't have a whole lot of success in her career after that, but really, this song is so great that she deserves to go down in history for it, alone.

To my surprise it was actually a translation of a French song, "Chariot" that British singer Petula Clark (of "Downtown" fame) had a number one hit with in France the year before the American recording.

I found Clark's version on Youtube.

You can definitely tell it's the same song, thanks to the melody, with that distinctive:

dah DIH DIH, dah DIH DIH , da DIH DIH

But Clark's version is tres Continental, with lots of washy strings and even horns, and a hint of Latin rhythm, like rhumba. Unfortunately I can't find a "real" translation of the French lyrics so I had to rely on Google Translate:
Trolley, trolley, if you want me
To accompany you at the end of the day
Let me come near you
On the big wagon wood and canvas
We will go
Where one side will emerge
In the first reflections of the sky
Before the sun's heat
Under the last star

The plain, the plain, the plain
Will have no border
The earth, the earth will be our field
I like, I like
This old truck that pitches,
Pitching, pitching
If you want me
To sleep by your side always
The moon was in the money
Winter in the snow and wind
So tell me, I go with you
The plain, the plain, the plain
Will have no border
The earth, the earth will see our field
I like, I like
This old truck that trembles
Trembling, trembling
If you want me
Of my life and my mad love
Along the streams and woods
At the heart of the dangers and joys
So tell me, I leave with you.
Judging from the video that Clark made, the "chariot" or "trolly" looks like some Old West type covered wagon.

Now this may not be a great translation, but it gives a flavor of the song - it sounds as though the singer wants to travel around the countryside with the object of her desire. Whereas Little Peggy's version is much more, shall we say, monomaniacal...

Love him, I love him, I love him.
And where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow.
I will follow him.
Follow him wherever he may go.
There isn't an ocean too deep,
A mountain so high it can keeeeeep,
Me away.

I must follow him (follow him)
Ever since he touched my hand I knew,
That near him I always must be.
And nothing can keep him from me.
He is my destiny (destiny).

I love him, I love him, I love him,
And where he goes, I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow.
He'll always be my true love, my true love, my true love,
From now until forever, forever, forever.

I will follow him (follow him),
Follow him wherever he may go,
There isn't an ocean too deep,
A mountain so high it can keep,
Keep me away, away from my love.
She must follow him. He is her destiny. Not too much variety, lyrically, although you have to give the singer lots of respect - there isn't an ocean too deep it can keep her away. Dayam. Oceans are deep. I mean it's one thing to say "ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough." But no ocean too deep? Who is she in love with, Jacques Cousteau? She's ready to get into a goddam bathyscaphe for this guy.

So it's not the melody and it's not the lyrics that make the Little Peggy March version so classic, it's the arrangement. What the arrangers did was take the original melody and mix it in with American doo-wop and voila - genius ensues.

The song opens with a drum kick and then goes right into the signature melody line in doo-wop style  - male voices, doing that distinctive "dah DIH DIH, dah DIH DIH , da DIH DIH"

And then Little Peggy chimes in. I find it a small but nevertheless significant choice to start the song out with "Love him" instead of "I love him." The L consonant is a stronger sound to start out with than the I vowel. And it just gets better from there.

The first lyric uses pop-rock instruments - a choppy guitar, drum kit and some kind of keyboard.

I will follow him.
Follow him wherever he may go.
There isn't an ocean too deep,
A mountain so high it can keeeeeep,
Me away.

The next lyric brings in the female chorus, and like Beatles backing vocals, they make all the difference:

Little Peggy: I must follow him 
chorus: follow him  
Little Peggy: Ever since he touched my hand I knew,
Little Peggy: That near him I always must be.
(Under the above lyric the chorus is going ahhhhhh-ahhhh)
Little Peggy: And nothing can keep him from me.
(More ahhhh-ahhh)
Little Peggy: He is my destiny,
chorus: destiny.

Please note the slight difference in the lyric, from I will follow him, to I MUST follow him. And maybe this is reading more deeply into it than is proper, but that female "DEST-in-NEE!" (with drums for punctuation) gets me every time. She is obsessed with this guy, but even in the middle of her obsesiveness there's this awareness of the adolescent ridiculousness of such an obsession. That "DEST-in-NEE!" represents that awareness. And if anybody knows about obsessive desire and the accompanying ridiculousness it's me - I could write a book about it.

So right after the higher consciousness of "DEST-in-NEE" the obsessiveness returns, stronger than ever, with the male doo-wop underlying the refrain:
I love him! 
I love him!
I love him!
And where he goes I'll follow!
I'll follow!
I'll follow!
He'll always be my true love!
My true love!

My true love!
From now until forever!
The next lyric is really interesting because in spite of the American doo-wop, suddenly strings appear, like in the French version. Well, not quite like the French version. The American version is show-offy - but then it has to be, to compete with the female backing vocals which will remain for the rest of the song:
I will follow him (follow him),
Follow him wherever he may go,
There isn't an ocean too deep,
A mountain so high it can keep,
Keep me away, away from my love.
Notice the violin flourish under "Keep me away"

And then the dramatic pause, which the French version has, but it's not quite as dramatic. And then the refrain returns with the violin doing this emphatic whiiz, whiiz! sound very much not like the French version.
I love him! (violin: whiiz!)
I love him! (violin: whiiz!)
I love him! (violin: whiiz!)
And where he goes I'll follow! (violin: whiiz!)
I'll follow! (violin: whiiz!)
I'll follow! (violin: whiiz!)
He'll always be my true love! (violin: whiiz!)
My true love! (violin: whiiz!)
My true love! (violin: whiiz!)
From now until forever! (violin: whiiz!)
Forever! (violin: whiiz!)
Forever! (violin: whiiz!)
 And now maybe the best irony - the violin becomes soaring and melodic under the lyric, in a very counterpoint classical music style.
I will follow him (follow him),
Follow him wherever he may go,
There isn't an ocean too deep,
A mountain so high it can keep,
Keep me away, away from my love.
And then the chorus jumps in, right in the middle (without the opening "I love him"s) and all the instruments and vocals are going full tilt until it's basically an opera and Mozart would be proud.
Doo-wop:dah DIH DIH, dah DIH DIH , da DIH DIH
And where he goes I'll follow! I'll follow! I'll follow
Soaring violin

Little Peggy: I know I'll always love him, I'll love him, I'll love him

Chorus:                                                    I'll love him, I'll love him

dah DIH DIH, dah DIH DIH , da DIH DIH
Soaring violin
Little Peggy: And where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow
Chorus: And where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow

Doo-wop:dah DIH DIH, dah DIH DIH , da DIH DIH
Soaring violin
Little Peggy: I know I'll always love him, I'll love him, I'll love him

Chorus: I know I'll always love him, I'll love him, I'll love him
Doo-wop:dah DIH DIH, dah DIH DIH , da DIH DIH
Soaring violin
Little Peggy: And where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow
Chorus: And where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow

Doo-wop:dah DIH DIH, dah DIH DIH , da DIH DIH
Soaring violin

Fade out

Next time I will analyze the Pixies' Gigantic.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jason Zinoman defends the poor beleaguered misogynist comedians

Jason Zinoman uses a favorite tactic of our male-dominated traditional media - get a woman to defend the Patriarchy. He quotes Tammy Pescatelli on the Daniel douchebag Tosh controversy:
I can’t defend Daniel’s words because I didn’t see the joke, but sounds like he was trying to make a funny situation out of an embarrassing one,” Ms. Pescatelli said. “Look, we’re at work. I’m trying to make a living making people laugh. I’m a mother. And this is what I’ve got to put up with?” 
This is how editors who want to attack feminism generally do it - hire Caitlin Flanagan or Katie Roiphe to write an article on a subject having to do with women. You can be sure they'll manage to turn the issue, no matter what it is, into an object lesson on How Feminism Has Ruined Everything, because that's their schtick. They really wouldn't have any careers except for their reliability at attacking feminism - and attacking feminism is considered acceptable if a woman does the attacking.

It's quite amusing to see Zinoman and the comedians he quotes jump through hoops to defend rape jokes. Zinoman even tries the  "everybody's doing it" defense:
Make no mistake: The reason there are so many rape jokes is that they work. As Mr. Tosh now knows, telling them carries a potential price, but so does changing the unfiltered, anything-for-a-laugh ethos of comedy clubs.
This was news to me - the fact that there are "so many rape jokes" in stand-up comedy and that "they work." When discussing the Tosh issue on Facebook one of my friends said she stopped going to stand-up shows because they were so misogynist. I didn't know what she meant, but then I get my stand-up comedy on Youtube and my favorite comedians tend to be women. I guess this is what she meant about the misogyny.

Prior to this controversy, the only rape joke I was aware of was Sarah Silverman's performance in The Aristocrats, in which she claims she was raped by Joe Franklin. But it was brilliant and not offensive and here's why - Wikipedia describes the premise of the film:
"The Aristocrats" is a longstanding transgressive joke amongst comedians, in which the setup and punchline are almost always the same (or similar). It is the joke's midsection – which may be as long as the one telling it prefers and is often completely improvised – that makes or breaks a particular rendition.

The joke involves a person pitching an act to a talent agent. Typically the first line is, "A man walks into a talent agent's office." The man then describes the act. From this point, up to (but not including) the punchline, the teller of the joke is expected to ad-lib the most shocking act they can possibly imagine. This often involves elements of incest, group sex, graphic violence, defecation, coprophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, child sexual abuse and various other taboo behaviors.
The joke ends with the agent, shocked and often impressed, asking "And what do you call the act?" The punchline of the joke is then given: "The Aristocrats".
Please note the term "child sexual abuse" - in other words, child rape. The brilliance of Silverman's approach is to take the premise of the alleged hilarity of "taboo-breaking" like child rape and play it straight. Putting "The Aristocrats" concept into that context is not only consciousness-raising but also funny - funny at the expense of other comedians, especially Joe Franklin, who threatened to sue her.

Here's why Tosh's response was objectionable, and not excusable based on "comedians say the darndest things." Zinoman makes the point and then quotes Pescatelli for backup, that this is some kind of working conditions issue: "I’m trying to make a living making people laugh. I’m a mother. And this is what I’ve got to put up with?” 

You are trying to make people laugh. Sometimes you fail. Just because some insults are excused on the basis that they are funny doesn't mean that all insults are therefore funny.

Tosh's alleged comment: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like five guys right now?” isn't part of his act. Someone interrupted his act and he responded by making that remark. Just because somebody makes a living as a comedian does not mean that every single thing they ever say is excusable because it's "just a joke."

But even more so, what Tosh said can best be compared to a white comedian in a nightclub in the South in the 1950s responding to a black man's heckling by saying "Wouldn’t it be funny if that boy got lynched by a white mob right now?"

White people have been lynched too, but it was much, much more likely to happen to a black person - and the perpetrators were invariably white people.

Just as rape, which, although it can happen to men, is most likely to be committed against women - by men.

Now maybe Zinoman and all the other Tosh/rape joke defenders would have no problem with a white comedian in the 1950s South saying it would be funny if a black man was lynched by a white mob.

But if they do have a problem with that, then they have to explain why that's not OK, but it's fair game to say it would be funny if a woman was raped - especially considering that rape happens much more often than lynching ever did.

I would suggest that the men who make these rape jokes are defending what they consider their rightful place at the top of the hierarchy. Just as if they were a bunch of white Southerners in the 1950s laughing at lynching "jokes."

The Onion has the best response yet to the Tosh controversy - I got this link via Katha Pollitt on Facebook:
Daniel Tosh Chuckles Through Own Violent Rape
'You Just Gotta Laugh,' Reports Comedian Through Blood And Tears

Pahk the Cah

Another video completed for the NYCPlaywrights Play of the Month. I'm getting pretty efficient at processing videos any more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

stage fright vs. panic attacks

I learned quite a bit Sunday, thanks to the Dramatists Guild panel in Philadelphia, about electronic and copyright issues for playwrights. And I did pretty well, considering this was my first panel discussion.

It helped that I've told the story of The Lawsuit a million times, but even so it surprised me to hear the gasps from the small but attentive audience when I mentioned that it cost my production partner over $300K to pay for the lawsuit.

What really surprised me though was how comfortable I felt at the table facing the audience. Considering that I have occasional panic attacks (although not nearly as often since I left my last job) and considering that the number one fear most people report having is public speaking - I would have thought that if I would have a panic anywhere it would be there.

I have taught computer classes both in corporate settings and colleges, and this was like a class in many respects, so I guess that helped. It also probably helped that my panic attacks have never been as extreme as Paul Vandevelder describes in Sunday's New York Times.  I've never taken medication for it, just suffered through it, but then again, my panic symptoms have never been as extreme as Vandevelder's, with actual sweating or heart-racing. Mine have always remained completely in my head, so although I am afraid I'm going to faint, I don't actually faint. I've had panic attacks right in the middle of talking to people and they had no idea I was having one.

Vandevelder even suggests that Heath Ledger died due to over-medicating himself for anxiety. Which is all the more reason to avoid drugs. But Vandevelder does a good deed here by publicizing the work of Claire Weekes, who is all about cognitive therapy as opposed to drugs.

Monday, July 16, 2012

what's with all the nudity?

The second play of the week we did was not about nudity like the first one was, but we got into it anyway. I learned so much about the world of men's locker rooms!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Don't Feed the Trolls - SkepchickCON/CONvergence panel

This is a very important issue dealt with at the Skepchick conference, the phenomenon of targeting women bloggers with threats of rape and violence.

It happened to me - not in comments but through search string text. Which is so inconvenient - trying to explain what search string text is and how you can read it to most people is like trying to explain what an obscene phone call is (which is very much what it is like)  to someone from the 17th century.

For more information about what happened to me, check out: Off-Off Broadway: Adventures with Creeps and Time to End Harassment.

One of the points made by the panel is that you should not remain silent about Internet harassment, even though people will tell you "don't let it bother you."

The goal of the troll is to shut you up. The search string harasser did not stop the harassment for over half a year until I mentioned him by name on my blog - and the name of one of his friends who also participated in the harassment.

Obviously I blog on a daily basis, and I talk about lots of things. Usually politics and theatre, but occasionally I talk about personal stuff. Normally I don't name names because who really cares? But I certainly have a right to talk about something that happened to me, and I even have the right to name names, if I so desire.

The reason I ended up being harassed by the text string messages is actually a long saga -  a few years ago I had a bad experience with a couple of actors who I was paying to perform in a show of mine. I felt horribly betrayed - they seemed to target me, in spite of my manifest good will towards them, for no other reason than it amused them to upset me, even in spite of the possible harm it would have done to the show that they themselves were performing in. I got a complaint from the stage manager that they were being abusive to the stage crew, but that was just one of the ways they chose to express their contempt for me.

After the show ended, I told each of them in individual emails why I was upset with them, and their response was to ignore me.  I concluded that they were awful people and I said so on my blog - I called them "assholes" - but I never mentioned them by name. Because other than me wanting them to know how I felt about them - I knew at least one of them was monitoring my blog - who really cares?

I concluded they were awful people - but even I didn't realize how awful. I wanted them to read what I thought about them because I wanted to shame them for their nasty and unprofessional behavior - but the problem is that you simply cannot shame people who possess no sense of shame.

 I only discovered in the last year or so that they used my online references to them (and I never mentioned their names) as a justification to defame me at a theatre organization and to many individuals. Including, apparently, the people responsible for the text string harassment.

Now this is basically my business, and not of a general interest, especially since I decided not to pursue legal recourse against them. Although if I ever get irrefutable evidence of their defamatory activities I will revisit that decision.

But what is most interesting on a social level in the context of this Skepchick panel discussion is how viciously misogynistic many of the text string messages were. These messages weren't from MRA (men's rights activists) types. These were men who claimed to be liberals and who partnered with women on creative projects. So it doesn't surprise me at all that Rebecca Watson and other women writing about controversial subjects (atheism, feminism) online receive threats of rape and murder. If even alleged liberal men can send text string messages like the ones I received, we certainly can't expect better from professional misogynists.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

creepy old man plays

I thought I could escape creepy old man plays when I stopped running NYCPlaywrights as an organization open to anybody. I ran it for years and the percentage of the membership that was old retired men kept creeping up, until eventually about 40% of the playwright membership was men over 60. Which meant that we were inundated with creepy old man plays.

Creepy old man plays have regressive attitudes about the world, because most people's understanding of the way things work, especially the social hierarchy, tends to stop evolving when they get into middle age - especially if they were at the top of the social hierarchy as these (inevitably straight and white) men were.

Which means that in creepy old man plays it's a huge problem that there are now sexual harassment laws in the workplace. According to creepy old man plays, the office environment was just swell for everybody, until these horrible feminists came in and ruined it for everybody.

Also they like to write plays in which young women are very much attracted to old men - not for their money, of course, but just for the splendiferousness of being an old man. I'll never forget one play, where the 60-something man (the hero of the play of course) was interested in a 20-something woman, and his uptight buddies were telling him to go retire to Florida with "a 50-year-old widow." Because in the minds of creepy old men, a man dating a woman only ten years younger than himself is a huge disappointment. And also note that a 50-year-old widow is seen as somebody who is willing to join a retired man in his retirement. As if she doesn't have her own job and her own 401K to think about.

Jesus I hate creepy old men.

They were a huge reason for why I changed things for NYCPlaywrights. And now that I'm running the NYCPlaywrights Play of the Week it's happening again. I stupidly suggested on the POTW call for scripts that the plays submitted don't necessarily have to be polished work but could be works-in-progress. Which means I have to wade through piles of absolute shit. And most of it from men, because men have a much higher opinion of themselves and their work than women do, and so they have no shame in sending off any crappy first draft they've just written.

Although women write bad plays too - but they're just less confident in their first drafts than men are.

But also, the idea that most people will learn from readings of their plays, I discovered long ago, is a joke. For most people the first draft IS the play, and they are not interested in critiques in order to help improve the work - they want you to tell them how great it is.

I only need to find four plays of the usual 50+ submissions for the Play of the Week that I can live with. And I can do it. The plays that are selected are rarely exactly good, but they at least don't make me want to puke.

But reading a pile of shitty plays month after month to get to those four non-pukey plays is starting to destroy my soul and I will have to stop. The Play of the Month project is enough to deal with. And one of the advantages of the Play of the MONTH is that there is usually a theme required of the submissions ("the supernatural", "civil rights" etc.) which makes it difficult, although not, alas, impossible for creepy old men to get in their usual favorite issues in.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Unless you have balls, you are worthless

Holy hopping Jesus on a pogo stick.

It's bad enough that Jon Stewart continues to use the word "balls" to mean courage, but when an alleged feminist uses it, it's completely insane.

That's like a Zionist complimenting another Jew for her good Christian values.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts posted a link on Facebook to this blog post, entitled "When You Are Silent, You Are Worthless. She writes:
In short, the books are being marketed as women’s literature (or better known as “chick lit,” a term that has always driven me up the wall). So, like the ballsy woman she is, Belica took pen to paper and wrote an article about her experience and her personal opinions of the books...
That's right, that is NOT a typo. She complains about the term "chick lit" and in THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE she compliments a woman by calling her "ballsy."

FOLLOW UP: here is her response:
Yes, I did and I will continue to call anyone I deem “ballsy” that regardless of gender. Just as I will call anyone “bitchy” when they are being that as well.
I do not define “ballsy” by gender and if you have a problem with that, take it up with Merriam-Webster.
So clearly if the culture codifies sexism in the language we are all utterly HELPLESS - if it's in the dictionary then we are compelled to continue to use the sexist-based term!

I mean, there is no more obvious bed-rock proof of millenia of misogyny than the fact that male genitalia is considered the appropriate word for courage, and female genitalia ("pussy") is considered the appropriate word for cowardace. What would it take to get through to her the fundamental, unavoidable sexism of the term "ballsy"? Do Noah Webster and George and Charles Merriam have to come back from the dead to explain it?

Obviously she would have no problem using the phrase "Jew down" to mean drive a hard bargain, either, because hey it's in the dictionary! Of course we have to continue to spread anti-Semitism if it's in the dictionary!

But that still begs the question - if you can justify the use of the word "ballsy" to praise a woman for her courage, on what grounds do you dare to complain about the use of the term "chick lit"? The logical dissonance is utterly mind-blowing.

And I did not choose the title of this blog post randomly - this is the exact meaning of what she is saying. Here's how it works: she says "when you are silent, you are worthless" - and so the woman she's writing about is not silent. Why does she have the power to speak up? She's ballsy. She has balls. Because having balls makes you courageous - LIKE A MAN.

Various types of dread

The web site Engrish.com is second only to Damn You Autocorrect for reliably making me laugh until I cry whenever I visit. The happy accidents of bad translation just make me LOL, whether people-based or computer algorithm-based.

And speaking of DYA...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Weeds Marathon

As I have done in late June- early July every year for the past seven years, I had a Weeds Marathon last weekend - I downloaded the entire season and watched the whole thing in one shot... well this year I watched the whole season in two shots.

Except for Monk and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Weeds is the only TV series I've gotten interested in over the past decade.

If I may use a drug analogy, Weeds was once a supreme high but after awhile the effects wore off and it no longer delivered quite the same buzz. But you keep trying anyway, hoping to recapture that feeling.  Unlike actual drugs in which you become acclimated to the psycho-physiological effects, the problem with Weeds is that series creator Jenji Kohan has run out of ideas.

Really, once Nancy Botwin leaves the Agrestic community after the third season, the quality dropped off - the entire suburban mom breaking the law concept was destroyed. And they had an excellent reason to lose the Doug Wilson character played by Kevin Nealon at that point, and yet they did not. I  never understood why Kevin Nealon has had a career. He's incredibly unattractive, but even more so, he seems slow and oafish. And the Doug Wilson character is without redeeming value - and predictably so. You always know what his character will do in any given scene - the jerkiest, most self-centered thing. I fast forward through Doug Wilson scenes as much as possible.

A huge general problem with the series is that everybody is basically corrupt and nobody cares that much about anything except for short-term pleasure and gain. The Doug Wilson character leads the pack on this, but they're all basically the same. And while there's a certain funky insouciance in a world where the characters are cool about everything and just go with the flow, it gets boring very quickly. If nobody really cares about anything, and everybody is corrupt, then what's the point?

Occasionally they'll give a character an attack of conscience and then things do become interesting. Nancy had an attack of conscience during the seasons where she was involved with a Mexican drug kingpin -  it turns out that they were not only dealing drugs, they were trafficking underaged girls. And that made Nancy cooperate with the police and that put the show on track for two seasons - it still wasn't as good as the first three years, but it was still addicting.

The Andy Botwin character (played by Justin Kirk) who is usually too flaky to take a stand about anything, also occasionally has an attack of conscience and at those times his character becomes interesting again.

And then the Silas character has attacks of conscience. Although this past season, 7, was by far the weakest one in part because Silas was jerked around as needed by the plot. The actor who plays him (Hunter Parrish) should be paid extra for trying to make sense of the empty, repetitive dialog he's given.

Another huge problem is that Weeds is suffering to a certain extent from the Smurfette principle, which is especially disappointing coming from a show created by a woman. But the show is all about Nancy Botwin, her two sons and her brother-in-law (oh yes and Doug Wilson, but who really cares about him?) The fact that none of the men is ever in a relationship that lasts more than a couple of months is truly disturbing. This used to be justified somewhat because they were on the run, but they were in Denmark for three years and only Shane appears to have had a substantial relationship with someone during that time.

There seems to be some effort to rehabilitate the Shane character (Alexander Gould), who basically became a psycho at the end of season 5. Giving him a relationship in Denmark was, I guess, phase one, and then having him join the police academy at the end of season seven is phase two. Because psychos might be interesting as adversaries, but they're not too interesting as one of the good guys.

One thing I have to say about Mary Louise Parker - she must be bionic. She appears not to have aged at all in seven years of Weeds. She's forty-seven years old - I kid you not - and looks like her early 30s. To get some sense of how most people in their 40s age, check out episodes of the Daily Show from 2005 and compare Jon Stewart then and now. That's not a knock against Stewart - I'm holding him up as an example of normal aging.

According to Wikipedia, the next season, 8, will be the last one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Heading for Philly

Tom Tirney is a former member of NYCPlaywrights, and now the President of the Board of the Philadelphia Dramatists Center, as well as the Philadelphia regional representative of the Dramatists Guild. He invited me to speak in Philly this Sunday about The Strange Case of Edward Einhorn vs. Mergatroyd Productions. More about the event here.

Ralph Sevush, the president of the Dramatists Guild will also be there, which is great - he's a very good speaker. I was very impressed by his panel discussions at last years Dramatists Guild convention. And of course he took the stand on our behalf during the TAM LIN trial.

As any of my friends or family members can tell you, getting me to talk about this case isn't a problem - it's getting me to shut up about it.

But kidding aside, I think our case was much more important than many people realize. We got a federal judge to define a registration-worthy director's copyright (my bold emphasis):
The claimed ("blocking and choreography" script) consisted of movements of actors and positioning of actors. There is a very lively question, I suppose, as to whether that is an appropriate subject of the copyright as to which I express no opinion. If it is, however, the deposit copy certainly didn't cover it because it is impossible to discern with precision from the deposit copy just exactly what the movements were and what the positioning was.
The most important parts are "with precision"and "exactly what the movements were and what the positioning was" - directors typically write their directions down - if at all - in the margins of the script and the stage managers will also take notes. Einhorn subpoenaed our stage manager from TAM LIN and tried to claim that her notes could stand in for a copyrightable work. But even the best stage manager doesn't take notes that make it possible to "discern with precision exactly what the movements were and what the positioning was." The director, stage manager and the actors all work together to firm up the positioning and movements. The stage manager may write certain key bits of information down, but in practice what everybody does is eyeball it - if everybody agrees it looks right, it is right.

To document "with precision" the movements and positioning would be a huge, time-consuming pain in the ass.

And then of course there is the issue of how the work should be submitted to the US Copyright Office for registration. As I pointed out last summer, there's actually a good case to be made, based on a passage in the 1996 issue of Columbia Law and the Arts, that Edward Einhorn infringed my copyright:
Because the dramatist retains the sole right to make copies of the work under 17 U.S.C 106(1), and to distribute it under 17 U.S.C. 103, the director's act of copying the script and sending it to the Copyright Office is itself an act of infringement.

And in fact the registration that Einhorn submitted to the Copyright Office did not even have my name on it. My script, from which they removed my name, and on which Einhorn added some stage directions, was submitted to the Copyright Office as Einhorn's work - not even as a derivative work.

The Mantello case is often cited on the issue of a director's copyright, but if it was tried, I'm certain Mantello would have lost. Because as the Columbia Law and the Arts article points out, the theatre company sued by Mantello (aided and abetted by the Stage Directors and Choreographer's Society) was simply following standard procedure in using the Mantello-directed production's set of Terrence McNally's work:
Because it is rare that a dramatist will participate in rehearsals beyond the first production, the only insurance the dramatist has that the work will continue to be performed in accordance with her wishes, is to cause the script to be printed as performed. Indeed, it has hertofore been the custom to simply assume the New York production is one and the same with the play. For example, in the Love! Valour! Compassion! case, the playwright Terrence McNally included a preface in the Acting Version of the play, stating that the initial New York Production was "definitive." The author even told one reporter that it was his hope that regional productions would not stray too much from his intent, as reflected by the staging of the New York production.

Thus, the dramatist normally receives a copy of the stage manager's script upon the opening of the show. This is then incorporated in the script given to the publisher, which normally also becomes the licensing agent of the play for subsequent productions (other than first class productions, which only the dramatist can authorize)... Further, the script itself includes the following notice: 
All groups receiving permission to produce Love! Valour! Compassion! are required to (1) give credit to the Author as sole and exclusive Author of the Play in all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play... and (2) to give the following acknowledgement on the title page of all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play: 'Originally produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club on November 1, 1994.
In the Love! Valour! Compassion! case, one of the Caldwell Theatre's major defenses is going to be that they relied heavily on the Acting Version in preparing their production. The accused theatre's development director, William McCarthy, has stated "[i]n our mind, we didn't do anything out of the ordinary that any regional theatre that's trying to mount a production in two and a half weeks doesn't: you refer to the script and to other information that you get from the producing entity and you use it. According to the artistic director, the script sent to him by the licensing agency included explicit stage directions which mirrored the Broadway production. McCarthy continued, "[w]e reviewed [SSDC's] list of complaints, and for the most part were able to relate them back to information contained in the script. Thus, Dramatists Play Service will no doubt have to be added as a necessary party to the lawsuit. In turn, Terrence McNally, who authorized the publication, will also be drawn into the suit.
McCarthy is also quoted in Playbill:
"The SSDC wants to make it sound like we admitted to using Mantello's stage directions. We did not, and there's nothing in the joint statement to that effect," said McCarthy. "It says certain elements of the New York production were created by Mantello. It does not say `stage directions.' The problem is Mantello was calling everything stage directions. As the joint statement says, none of the legal issues have been resolved. No precedent has been set by this case."
So what Jonathan Flagg and I did was actually bring the question up for a decision by a judge, unlike the Mantello case. But because nobody involved in our case is famous like Mantello and McNally (in spite of Edward Einhorn's views of his career) this has been largely ignored by the theatre world. But on a legal level, that doesn't matter - if another director were to pull a stunt like Einhorn did, you better believe that the playwright's lawyer will look up our case and use Judge Kaplan's words against the director.

So to sum up, there are three roadblocks on the path to a director's copyright:
  1. The nuisance of having to write down with precision the movements and positioning. This would add a whole other level of administration to a stage production.
  2. The traditional practice of recording a world premiere's set and general blocking for a play's publication has never been accepted as grounds for a director's copyright, Mantello's out-of-court settlement notwithstanding.
  3. Although the Einhorns attempted to submit my play plus director's notes as an original work, in fact a stage director can never legally submit stage directions as a free-standing work - it will always be a derivative work, in a way that choreography (which the Einhorns tried to compare Edward's direction to) is not. The more accurate analogy, which the Dramatists Guild made, is the relationship of a conductor to a composer's work. Conductors do not copyright their conducting of a composer's work.
And of course there is the issue of any playwright and or producer being fool enough to let a director who is clearly recording his/her direction "with precision" to get away with it. You'd have to be an idiot to agree to such a thing.

Really, it's probably time I wrote a book about this.

Here's an article from Variety about the Mantello case, with the headline written in its inimitable style:

Helmers, scribes battle
To translate, "helmers" are directors and "scribes" are playwrights.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Discovering HAMLET

And speaking of HAMLET, this documentary of Kenneth Branagh being directed by Derek Jacobi (and narrated by Patrick Stewart) in HAMLET is great. This was pretty much my introduction to directing, in addition to being thrown into it thanks to the TAM LIN lawsuit. I have it on VHS video and so of course can't watch it any more - but here it is on Youtube - yay!

In defense of Act I Scene 1

I saw two very different productions of HAMLET in the last two weeks. Almost the only thing they both had in common was that they excised Act I Scene 1.

I object.

I have no problem with trimming the play. Everybody does it and with good reason. Avon Bill never used one word when he could use ten, and it's hard enough for modern audiences to interpret the language. And in spite of what some people would have you believe, it is not finally the language that is the most important aspect of Shakespeare's work, impressive though his language is - it's the plot and the emotions.

Here is the scene as written:


         SCENE I. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.

            FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO


            Who's there?


            Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.


            Long live the king!






            You come most carefully upon your hour.


            'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.


            For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
            And I am sick at heart.


            Have you had quiet guard?


            Not a mouse stirring.


            Well, good night.
            If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
            The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.


            I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?

            Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS


            Friends to this ground.


            And liegemen to the Dane.


            Give you good night.


            O, farewell, honest soldier:
            Who hath relieved you?


            Bernardo has my place.
            Give you good night.



            Holla! Bernardo!


            Say, What, is Horatio there?


            A piece of him.


            Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.


            What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?


            I have seen nothing.


            Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
            And will not let belief take hold of him
            Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
            Therefore I have entreated him along
            With us to watch the minutes of this night;
            That if again this apparition come,
            He may approve our eyes and speak to it.


            Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.


            Sit down awhile;
            And let us once again assail your ears,
            That are so fortified against our story
            What we have two nights seen.


            Well, sit we down,
            And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.


            Last night of all,
            When yond same star that's westward from the pole
            Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
            Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
            The bell then beating one,--

            Enter Ghost


            Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!


            In the same figure, like the king that's dead.


            Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.


            Looks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio.


            Most like: it harrows me with fear and wonder.


            It would be spoke to.


            Question it, Horatio.


            What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
            Together with that fair and warlike form
            In which the majesty of buried Denmark
            Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak!


            It is offended.


            See, it stalks away!


            Stay! speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!

            Exit Ghost


            'Tis gone, and will not answer.


            How now, Horatio! you tremble and look pale:
            Is not this something more than fantasy?
            What think you on't?


            Before my God, I might not this believe
            Without the sensible and true avouch
            Of mine own eyes.


            Is it not like the king?


            As thou art to thyself:
            Such was the very armour he had on
            When he the ambitious Norway combated;
            So frown'd he once, when, in an angry parle,
            He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
            'Tis strange.


            Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
            With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.


            In what particular thought to work I know not;
            But in the gross and scope of my opinion,
            This bodes some strange eruption to our state.


            Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
            Why this same strict and most observant watch
            So nightly toils the subject of the land,
            And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
            And foreign mart for implements of war;
            Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
            Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
            What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
            Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
            Who is't that can inform me?


            That can I;
            At least, the whisper goes so. Our last king,
            Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
            Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,
            Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,
            Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet--
            For so this side of our known world esteem'd him--
            Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,
            Well ratified by law and heraldry,
            Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands
            Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror:
            Against the which, a moiety competent
            Was gaged by our king; which had return'd
            To the inheritance of Fortinbras,
            Had he been vanquisher; as, by the same covenant,
            And carriage of the article design'd,
            His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
            Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
            Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
            Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes,
            For food and diet, to some enterprise
            That hath a stomach in't; which is no other--
            As it doth well appear unto our state--
            But to recover of us, by strong hand
            And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
            So by his father lost: and this, I take it,
            Is the main motive of our preparations,
            The source of this our watch and the chief head
            Of this post-haste and romage in the land.


            I think it be no other but e'en so:
            Well may it sort that this portentous figure
            Comes armed through our watch; so like the king
           That was and is the question of these wars.


            A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
            In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
            A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
            The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
            Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
            As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
            Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
            Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
            Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
            And even the like precurse of fierce events,
            As harbingers preceding still the fates
            And prologue to the omen coming on,
            Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
            Unto our climatures and countrymen.--
            But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!

            Re-enter Ghost

            I'll cross it, though it blast me. Stay, illusion!
            If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
            Speak to me:
            If there be any good thing to be done,
            That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
            Speak to me:

            Cock crows

            If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
            Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid, O, speak!
            Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
            Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
            For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
            Speak of it: stay, and speak! Stop it, Marcellus.


            Shall I strike at it with my partisan?


            Do, if it will not stand.


            'Tis here!


            'Tis here!


            'Tis gone!

            Exit Ghost

            We do it wrong, being so majestical,
            To offer it the show of violence;
            For it is, as the air, invulnerable,
            And our vain blows malicious mockery.


            It was about to speak, when the cock crew.


            And then it started like a guilty thing
            Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,
            The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
            Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
            Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
            Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
            The extravagant and erring spirit hies
            To his confine: and of the truth herein
            This present object made probation.


            It faded on the crowing of the cock.
            Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
            Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
            The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
            And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
            The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
            No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
            So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.


            So have I heard and do in part believe it.
            But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
            Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill:
            Break we our watch up; and by my advice,
            Let us impart what we have seen to-night
            Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,
            This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
            Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
            As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?


            Let's do't, I pray; and I this morning know

            Where we shall find him most conveniently.


Almost everybody these days leaves out the part where Hamlet is gossiping with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the boy theater troupes - both the productions I saw did - and it's fully justifiable - Shakespeare was just being catty about his rivals, which, as much as I enjoy it, is not essential for the plot.

Also the "dumb show" - the mimed version of the murder of Gonzago which directly precedes the non-mime version of the murder of Gonzago, is hardly ever included. I think I've only ever seen one production that used it, the BBC's version with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet. And really, it's astounding that Shakespeare himself would use it, it's so incredibly excessive - talk about hammering home the point. Hey Bill, whatever happened to brevity being the soul of wit? And it's not like the play needs padding, it's already plenty long without it.

But in spite of the free and easy hand directors have with Shakespeare's plays (and much too free and easy for the most part in my opinion), you should NOT leave out the opening of the play.

First of all, it's exciting. It's got a ghost in it. And this is important for two reasons: first because it establishes that Hamlet is not crazy for thinking that he sees his father's ghost - in the world of the play everybody except Hamlet's mother sees the ghost whenever it shows up.

And second because then it absolutely ruins the joke of Scene 2:


        Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats

        Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

        Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven

        Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!

        My father!--methinks I see my father.


        Where, my lord?


         In my mind's eye, Horatio.

It's pretty hard to read this as anything but a great gag that Shakespeare deliberately threw into the scene. It's hysterical when Hamlet says "methinks I see my father" and then Horatio looks around nervously (or in terror depending on the direction) because he thinks that Hamlet sees the ghost.

Both productions left this part in and even played it for laughs - but damn it, it doesn't work unless we've seen Horatio see the ghost of Hamlet's father!

Granted, in I-1 there is some long-ass exposition about Fortinbras, about which nobody gives a damn. I'd be fine if they wanted to cut that down a little. But the third reason you should not leave out I-1 is because we get to see Horatio. He bookends the play. He's vitally important to establishing Hamlet's character.  And you are a damn fool if you leave this out of the play:
    The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
    Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
And also, Hamlet later tells Horatio that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy - Act I Scene 1 shows this is literally true. After the soldiers tell Horatio they saw the ghost, Horatio says:

Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
And  right after that, the ghost shows up. Suck it, Horatio!

And one more thing to all would-be directors of HAMLET:

ENOUGH with the mixing up Rosencrantz and Guildenstern! It's not in the play - some director, at some point, had Claudius get them mixed up and then Gertrude corrects him, and it's used by every director ever since. But it's a good bit. Not as good as "methinks I see my father" but still, it's pretty funny and most importantly, plausible. You know why? Because the king and queen have never met Rosencrantz and Guildenstern before. But in the production I saw yesterday, goddman HAMLET gets them mixed up too, and that's just stupid. Not only does it ruin a good joke with repetition, but it makes Hamlet look like an idiot. These are friends of his, of course he knows which one is which.